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Jim Wohlford

April 2, 2008
 

If Jim Wohlford’s itinerant 15-year, 4-team career was a series of romantic relationships, the first of these affairs, with the Kansas City Royals, was The One. He met the Royals while still practically a kid, full of promise, and they’d grown up together. According to the back of this card, the California-born Jim Wohlford had even relocated to Kansas City permanently. Likewise, a profession of love and devotion had been made to him by the trade of fellow young suitor Lou Piniella so that he, Jim Wohlford, could claim left field for his own.

But he did not flourish under the strains of this commitment, and had he been paying close attention he could have noticed that the club, blooming from youthful prettiness to mature division-winning beauty, was growing distant, benching him more and more against righties, beginning to rely on him only occasionally, maybe to pinch-run for John Mayberry, maybe to pinch-hit against Tom Burgmeier. Finally, perhaps just before the photo for this 1977 card was snapped, the Royals, looking better than ever, looking stunningly good, walked up to Jim Wohlford and told him, “Jim Wohlford, sit down. We have to talk.”

From then on, if this card is any guide, Jim Wohlford led the league in forlornness, loosing demoralizing sighs as he drifted from one doomed, lackluster relationship to another, his unreliable bat on his shoulder like a hobo’s bindle. He tried first to salve the pain of being dumped by the Royals by consorting for a while with a young ripening barroom beauty, the Brewers, before leaving the Brewers just as the club was on the brink of blooming into boozy glory. Maybe any sweet days with the Brewers just reminded him of the Royals, and so were more pain than pleasure, which would explain the embrace, via free agency, by Jim Wohlford of a rainy, joyless three-year numbness with the San Francisco Giants, who eventually jettisoned him for someone named Chris Smith, a name so generic as to suggest the fictional. Last came the sad lingering rendezvous with the fallen foreign-accented former bombshell, the mid-1980s Montreal Expos, who returned Jim Wohlford’s forlorn muttering with cognac-addled rants about Mike Schmidt and Rick Monday and secession. That ended too, of course, as all things will, not long after Jim Wohlford watched from afar in 1985 as the only royal blue heaven he’d ever known won it all without him.

29 comments

  1. 1.  Hate to hijack this thread but I’ve found your readers to be the best at remembering things.

    I have a vague memory of Pete Rose and Larry Bowa having a fight when Rose was on the Reds over a play at 2nd base. Does this ring true or was it some other hot headed infielder who couldn’t hit but felt he was God’s gift to baseball?


  2. 2.  I’m beginning to think there’s more to your writing than just the cards.


  3. 3.  I am always amazed that athletes who look like Jim Wohlford were able to play major league baseball when guys like Reggie Abercombie could never succeed.
    The guy just looks like a dweeb but you can bet he was probably all everything at his high school.


  4. 4.  1 : I think you’re thinking of Buddy Harrelson, 1973 playoffs, the brawl that ended with Pedro Borbon eating a hat.


  5. 5.  I’ve read this about three times now — I think every sentence is perfectly crafted. Brilliant.


  6. 6.  1
    Was it Rose and Bud Harrelson in the 1973 NLCS?


  7. 7.  I should have hit refresh.


  8. 8.  Gracias

    As always Josh, your writing is the best.


  9. 9.  Ah. Another sad-sack face to go with Juan Pierre’s.


  10. 10.  Ahhh, Jim Wohlford, what a jackass you are. When I moved to Visalia he was my first baseball coach at the tender age of 8 and of course I was thrilled to be coached by a former big-leaguer.

    Unfortunately, that year and every other year I happened to be placed on his team, he spent all his time trying to make his son into a star. While early on this looked like a reality, unfortunately the kid who once towered over everyone topped out at 5’11” and peaked when he was about 12. From there he went on to become a mediocre athlete, struggle to stay academically eligible, burn down his house while smoking pot, and last I heard was dealing drugs in Fresno.

    Congratulations Jim, you pushed your son so hard at sports that you forgot to teach him about life. Oh, and you’re an arrogant son of a bitch who was voted the worst left fielder of all-time by ESPN’s page two recently.


  11. 11.  This one was worth it just for the reference to the “hobo’s bindle.”
    There just aren’t as many bindle stiffs as there used to be.
    (Not as many railroad jerks, either.)

    People voted Jim Wohlford the worst left fielder of all time?


  12. 12.  I would have thought somebody who had a large group of fans who hated him, like maybe George Foster, would have been voted worst LF of all time.


  13. 13.  It wasn’t really a vote, I think it was Eric Neal who put the list together. His basis was that he had so many at-bats without really doing anything remotely productive.

    I can’t find the link now, but believe me, he was on there :)


  14. 14.  “…cognac-addled rants about Mike Schmidt and Rick Monday and secession.”

    This is way better than talking about VORP or ranking prospects. Baseball’s back, man. I took a friend to Yankee Stadium last nite and am catching the home opener of hard hittin’ New Britain later this evening with my brothers. Portland’s in town, so I get to see Justin Masterson pitch.


  15. 15.  10 , 13 : Thanks for the inside scoop about Wohlford, post big leagues. Before reading that all I knew was what I read in Royals Retrospective (http://tinyurl.com/3ylm88), which noted that Wohlford currently “is active in the local community, hosting a yearly celebrity golf tournament to raise money for his alma mater, the College of the Sequoias.”

    As for him never doing anything remotely productive, he did, on three separate occasions, finish in the top ten in the league in times caught stealing.

    14 : I’d be interested to hear how Masterson does. I think I’ve heard they have him loosely projected as a reliever. I didn’t recognize any other names on the New Britain roster, but I think, on name alone, Bubba Bell bears watching. I also noticed that the roster includes a Chris Smith, perhaps related to the earlier Chris Smith who let an aging Jim Wohlford know what he was worth.


  16. 16.  FYI: The movie discussion that arose in the comments section of last week’s Jim Palmer post got a recent update.


  17. 17.  Great post, funniest one in a while. Interesting and sad comment in (10), but I’m surprised this post didn’t elicit more heartbreak stories from the readership. I immediately recognized myself as Jim Wohlford and the Royals as Lisa L. from 9th grade.


  18. 18.  Josh, that’s what Sox Prospects says about Masterson. I asked Aaron Gleeman about the Rock Cats and fe said that former first rounder Plouffe is a shortstop prospect.


  19. 19.  Applying your relationship analogy to other players…I guess folks like Gaylord Perry and Rickey Henderson are complete mansluts.


  20. 20.  Had Wohlford managed to hit one out in 1975, he would have had 11 consecutive seasons with exactly one or two home runs, which I’m going to say would have been a record. So he would have had that going for him, which would have been nice.


  21. 21.  Three things:

    1. Reading cardboardgods is always worthwhile because you just might see an essay in which “numbness” is used as a noun.

    2. Jim Wohlford was an active player when I first started following baseball. I don’t have any recollections of him as a player but immediately, upon seeing his name, remembered his 1986 Topps card. It was one of those cards that seemed to turn up in every pack – there are at least five of them deep within my mother’s basement.

    That year, the first that I really collected cards, I lived and died by the stats on the backs. I sorted them into piles based on whether or not they hit 20 or more homers, won more than 10 games, etc…

    Late that year, as those piles grew, it seemed like I kept getting Wohlford, or Buddy Biancalana, or Reid Nichols instead of Boggs, Mattingly, or even Keith Moreland.

    Wohlford hit a woeful .192 in 1985. Here’s that awful card…

    http://www.billscollectiblestuff.com/servlet/the-3036/1986-Topps-344-Jim/Detail

    Who’s he watching? Raines? Dawson? Razor Shines? His expression and posture both seem resigned.

    3. I went to the game the other day, on a whim…woke up, grabbed the bus, $10 ticket. And there I was, sitting in the sunshine, shrieking at a rookie catcher for throwing a ball into center field on a two-strike, two-out count which allowed the lead runner to score from third. It’s gonna get warm soon.


  22. 22.  About Masterson:

    The baseball game got suspended because of a power outage so my brother and I retired after one inning to the Wild Rover for some calimari and a couple of drinks. He left, but I wound up hanging out with one of the kids that worked there; a fresh off the boat Irish kid named Peter. I bent his ear asking the dating status of all the different waitresses and wound up closing the place. At one point I recalled relieving myself in a gold toilet. I left a copy of the 1918 Red Sox book there with my George Whiteman bio. I brought that in to show my brother.

    The Rover is on the way to work, so I stopped by this morning to pick the book up. I commented on the opulence of the restroom and the gold toilet. The manager said “Aha! So you’re the ####### that pissed in that guy’s tuba.”


  23. 23.  Holy crap — I thought I had heard them all, but that just might be the best barroom urination story ever…


  24. 24.  I liked this a lot, Wohlford always striking me as one of the ‘forlorn-est’ visages in organized ball.

    Though “We NEED to talk” always stung more bitterly than “we HAVE to…”

    The barroom beauty of the Brewers was a nice subtext.
    However, why would the mid-80s Expos ever be condidered a “fallen bombshell?”
    – I’d think of her more like a homely yet exotic (read: interesting and maybe attractive after a few drinks) type of chick who woulda-shoulda-coulda (in ’81) if only she hadn’t dressed a certain way, or gotten a nose piercing, or a particulary unflattering haircut…

    Also why would the Expos/Lass be talking about Mike Schmidt?


  25. 25.  24 : Naw, the Expos were as smokin’ hot as any dame on the market (i.e., not yet wedded to a championship). Not just in ’81 but in ’80 and ’79, too. In 1980, after narrowly losing the division the previous year to Pops and the Pirates, the Expos went into a final series of the season tied with the team they were playing, the Phillies. Schmidt homered and drove in both runs in a 2-1 Phillies win in the first game and then he won the second game and the division with a 2-run homer in the 11th inning.


  26. 26.  Josh beat me to it by THAT much.

    Here are the boxes from those piles of Schmidt:

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MON/MON198010030.shtml

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/MON/MON198010040.shtml


  27. 27.  Schmidt also hurt them in ’79. The two teams also ended the regular season playing one another that year, and Schmidt hit a homer in the series opener to drop the Expos two games behind the Pirates with two to play. But the Expos really had only themselves to blame that year: they had just dropped three of four to the Pirates.


  28. 28.  21. (1.) I was going to say that, but I had to numbness over to my sister’s house.

    (sorry)


  29. 29.  Just to clarify, it’s his son that’s the real screw-up. Jim’s only sin is being an arrogant jerk and poor father.

    I will give him the fact that he does help out the community by getting some ex-ballplayers to come to his golf tournament and baseball clinics. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to meet Johnny Bench and find out how apathetic a guy can be while teaching 12-year-olds.



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